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Are you in the In-Group or the Out-Group with your Boss?

If you are in the out-group, you know it. Your boss spends more time with others in your work team. They get more challenging assignments and more resources. You may have seen them get higher pay raises and promotions. Your boss just seems to like them more. How and why did this happen?

Research over the past 40 years by George Graen and his associates has shown that the differentiation of work groups into “trusted assistants” (the in-group) and “hired hands” (the out-group) follows a predictable pattern. The in-group has a lot more of what we call Leader-Member Exchange or LMX. High LMX followers have more influence in decisions, more freedom to innovate in their work, more communication with their boss and they are more satisfied with their work.

In 1987, George Graen and I described the process through which high LMX emerges:

  1. Role-taking: The leader evaluates your abilities and talents. Based on this, she offers you opportunities to show her what you can accomplish. This is the “testing phase” as the boss makes offers and you respond (or fail to respond). Not responding is a ticket to the out-group.
  2. Role-making: In the second phase, the leader and member take part in informal negotiations and a trusted assistant role is created for the member. There is an unspoken understanding of benefits in exchange for hard work and support of the goals of your boss. Mutual trust is built in this stage. This involves both social and economic forms of exchange. For example, loyalty to one another is a relationship exchange and provision of budget for a new project is an economic form.
  3. Role-Routinization: A pattern of ongoing social exchange between the leader and the member has been developed. Being an in-group member means that you are dependable and go above your written job description. You and your boss now have sustained high levels of respect, trust and loyalty and you genuinely like one another. You stop keeping track of favor-doing for one another because you are both dependable and come through for one another.

If you are in the in-group, you hopefully can begin to see how this happened. In future blog posts, I will explore the LMX approach and discuss what you can do to move out of the out-group. Share this post with your boss!